Day 4: Well it’s been Bye Bye beaches and Hola hilltops & coffee haciendas the past two days as we’ve left the comfy confines of Playa Colorada behind for the lush green scenery of Caripe. This is where Leap teams will spend weeks 6,7, and 8 of their volunteer placements and it couldn’t be more different from the coast! On Tuesday morning we piled into to the trusty Leap Jeep and drove 4.5 hours South along the coast and then inland and upwards (in altitude!) to the famous Mountainous region of Monangas State. Cooler in temperature (though all things are relative as I’ve discovered!) and with a slightly higher rainfall that other parts of the country, Caripe is a paradise of thick jungle, rich soil perfect for farming (in particular Coffee and exotic fruit) and one of Venezuela’s most famous National Parks.

I have to admit that after a few days of sweating it out at the beach I was ready for a cooler climate. Our road trip started on a high, with Carlos (a friend of Jakera’s and owner of a cute little campsite and motel just outside Caripe called the ‘Kenya Camp’ weirdly!) treating us to the local delicacy ‘Fresa con Crema’ and some scrumptious home brew ginger wine. I declined to point out that the English probably thought of strawberries and cream first as they were so delicious! Then we were taken on a tour of a coffee plantation and factory. Being a fully sworn-in member of the caffeine addicts club I could have quite happily spent a whole day there but then Brendan (Mr All-Action Adrenaline-Junkie Man, the Leap project host to you and I) went a suggested we take a ‘gentle’ hike. To a beautiful 90ft waterfall. And I kid you not, we pretty much scaled a bleeding mountain! See photos below for evidence…

But we weren’t just here for fun. We were here to check out the 2 conservation projects Leapers will be working on in the second phase of their placement, and see a few of the different accommodation options for future teams. Unlike the lodge at Playa, this time volunteers will be getting close to nature (not exactly a challenge up here!) with a mix of camping and hacienda stays. With masses of coffee farms in the area, each with haciendas and camping facilities there were no shortage of options- now it’s just a case of whittling it down.

Firstly teams will be working on vital reforestation activities, with the lovely Andreas (picture below- apologies for the obvious!), which will include collecting seeds, planting trees and visiting schools to educate local kids about environmental issues. Andreas showed us a couple of potential sites for the Vivero, or tree nursery which Leapers will be creating and looking after and talked about the vital need for reforestation and in the area. In the past few years there have been a number of landslides, caused by heavy rains on hillsides left bare by deforestation for firewood and land clearance, destroying roads, houses and valuable agriculture in their way. The only way of preventing future catastrophes is to establish sustainable forests and educate local people. Hopefully over the next few years and with the support of The Leap, Andreas and the national Park authorities will be able to just that. Lovely job!

Following this, 10 week volunteers will start a two week program working with National Park rangers doing renovation work on footpaths and a clean up of the area around the world famous cave system. They’re also keen beans to have volunteers help sprucing up the park visitor centre and museum which will be a great contrast to the physical work of footpath renovation. The park rangers we met were wonderful and couldn’t wait to start receiving volunteers so that they can make a start on this project. It’s been in the pipelines for a long time but with a huge funding deficit from the government the rangers are really limited in what they can do. Hopefully with a much needed injection of Leap manpower we can turn the fortures of this magnificent National Park around.

The park is famous for being a home to the Guacharo Cave, one of the world’s longest and was discovered by Alexander von Humboldt 200 years ago. It is home to fascinating limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites and a huge population of nocturnal Guacharos or oil birds. It’s also not as smelly or dirty as either Alice or I were expecting! We were taken by a guide deep inside the cave (about 1500m!) and with only 1 oil lamp between aboutn 8 of us it was quite the adventure. At one stage the cheeky imp turned the lamp out and we were plunged into absolute cant-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face-darkness, which was slightly terrifying but an amazing experience and seeing and hearing (they communicated like bats) the 50,000 Oil Birds that live in the caves was unforgettable.

All in all, Caripe is a great place and a huge contrast, both climate-wise and culturally, to the coast. Volunteers are going to love it here I’m sure. And a little Brendan-shaped birdy happened to mention that if you come here in February (which the January teams will have the honor of doing) you’ll be in town for one of Venezuela best fiestas- a huge 5 day street party with music, dancing, scantily clad women and the obligatory all-day cerveza consumption that you would expect from a South American festival. Talk about a bonus!

So, now it’s back to the beach for a few more days of hospitality at the lodge and time to check out the teaching community project in Playa Colorada before heading for a 3 day adventure in the Orinoco Delta…stay tuned!